Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightThe Aloha State is enjoying an unprecedented run of North American demand, but the current wave of increased interest in a Hawaii vacation has raised prices across the destination.

“If we look at all of our measures for demand for North American visitors to Hawaii, it’s at an all-time high, which is great news,” Jay Talwar, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB), told Travel Weekly.

“That’s reflected in airlift currently, and for the next six-month period, as far as we can see, [air seats are] at an all-time high,” he continued. “So increased demand has led to increased lift into the marketplace, which has allowed the industry to push rate.”

However, those higher prices are leading more potential visitors to think twice about a Hawaii vacation.

“The percentage of people that are saying the price is the reason they did not pull the trigger on a trip has increased,” Talwar said.

Although tourism business to the state is booming at the moment — the Hawaii Tourism Authority is projecting record-breaking arrivals and visitor spending in 2014 followed by more growth in 2015 — Talwar noted that the destination has traditionally experienced a cycle of downturns following the industry highs of the past.ShaneNelson

Travelers from North America, and particularly those in states west of the Rockies, have shown signs of resistance to Hawaii’s more expensive vacation costs over the last year. But July marked the first year-over-year arrivals growth from the U.S. West in 11 months, thanks to an increase in air seats to the Islands and even a few airfare sales.

The HVCB is keen to maintain as much of that increased lift from the U.S. mainland as possible in the months and even years to come, knowing that sagging demand figures lead to seat reductions, which are typically followed by those cyclical troughs in Aloha State tourism business.

During his presentation late last month at the 2014 Hawaii Tourism Conference, Talwar pointed out that HVCB research shows the number of its “Hawaii Target Travelers,” a group of U.S. people the organization believes are best suited for an Aloha State vacation, has grown from 23.6 million to 26 million over the past couple of years.

But 35% of those folks have never visited the Islands, and Talwar said many have decided to stay away because of misconceptions about the destination and the total value a Hawaii vacation can offer.

“Everybody thinks they know Hawaii, even these people who’ve never been, based on popular culture, based on the media, based on friends and family,” he explained. “And then when we talked to them, we realized they really didn’t.”

For example, the fact that Hawaii offers visitors six different island experiences came as a surprise to many of those surveyed U.S. consumers who’d never been to the state, Talwar said.

Beginning next year, the HVCB intends to target the 35% group of never-visited Hawaii folks with a new social media campaign, making use of friends and family members. According to Talwar, the most influential group of travel destination influencers has long been friends and family members, and the HVCB is working on a plan to take advantage of an incredibly high recommendation rate the destination earns after travelers spend time in the Islands.

“If you ask [departing air] passengers if they’d recommend a vacation to Hawaii to their friends and family, 99% say yes,” Talwar said. “So what we want to do is connect with those 99% who want to recommend — connect with them somehow on social media — and get them to talk to their friends and family about recommending their trip to the Hawaiian Islands.”

Talwar wasn’t ready to divulge any specifics yet about the HVCB’s new social media campaign, but did say the effort would kick off at the beginning of next year, a key decision-making period for U.S. travelers. He also noted that North American travel agents should keep an eye out for a range of new Hawaii pricing and value-added packages the organization will be promoting across the U.S. starting this fall.

“The good news for agents is demand for Hawaii is at an all-time high,” he said. “Air seats are at an all-time high. The opportunity to talk about the six different islands is what we’ve found is the real clincher in our research. So their education in all six islands is going to be a key for them to grow their business.”
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